“Oh Brother Ed, Where Art Thou?,” by Abzier Coppe

I hope my intro makes Johann Hari’s article more interesting to Americans. I’m sure British politics seems just as arcane and incomprehensible in its finer details to you as American politics does to me! The biggest mystery to me in the US Presidential election was how did McCain wind up with a total idiot like Sarah Palin as his running mate? Every time I saw her speak on Youtube, I would start laughing in disbelief.

The gal hadn’t got a clue, but McCain hadn’t much either from what I saw. Had he been elected, he could well have died in office because of his history of heart problems. In any case history was made: Obama is the first intelligent president since Clinton, and less flawed personally than his predecessor. He’s hamstrung by the Republican filibustering minority in the Senate, and I don’t know if there is anything he can do about that. I still want to read Obama’s first book, Dreams About My Father. I’m told it’s a good read. Man, I was celebrating over here when he won, but it seems many Obama supporters are feeling less enthusiastic now.

We had a similar experience in the UK with the election of Tony Blair as Labour Prime Minister in 1997 after 18 years of rule by the Conservatives. “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive”…or so we we thought. But I never had any illusions about that slimeball Blair.

The British Labour Party will elect a new leader on September 25th, 2010. The contest seems to have narrowed to the two brothers Miliband, sons of the Marxist writer and academic Ralph Miliband, whose last study was entitled Parliamentary Socialism (his most well known book was The State in Capitalist Society). The brothers are secular Jews, but neither has any particular attachment to Israel (neither brother is a member of the pro-Zionist pressure group Labour Friends of Israel). Ed, the younger brother, is 40, and David is 45.

David is the continuity candidate and will give us all that was rotten about Blairism redux. If he cannot put any political distance between himself and Tony Blair, he will probably be unelectable in 2015, as the electorate decisively rejected in 2010 all that he stands for – rising social inequality at home, further privatization of the economy, kowtowing to the banks, fawning over the very rich and the expensive and disastrous foreign wars abroad.

The Labour vote has been falling continuously since they were elected in 1997. In 2005 Labour got 35.2% of the vote on a low voter turnout (part of the disaffected core Labour vote stayed at home, or in some cases voted for the British National Party), but because of an iniquitous electoral system, they still romped home with an overall majority of over 60 seats in the House of Commons. This time Labour got 29.1% of the popular vote on a higher voter turnout than 2005: the game was really up for Labour.

Of course Labour no longer had their spinmeister leader Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, who took the Labour leadership unopposed in 2008 and then failed to hold an election to give himself a mandate, didn’t handle the all-powerful media as well as Blair. There was no decisive outcome of the 2010 election, and certainly many of the 23% of people who voted Liberal Democrat will not be happy to see their party, which held more radical positions than Labour on taxation (some say: I have my doubts), social inequality, defense and the war in Iraq, in bed with the Tories and effectively their junior partner.

I see Blairism as a deviation to the Right in relation to postwar Social Democracy up to the end of the 1970s, and as a direct heir of Margaret Thatcher, the ardent monetarist and disciple of Milton Friedman.

Ed Miliband is more of a traditional social democrat. He also has a real personal warmth not shared by elder brother, and that is a great asset in politics. Ed has a better record than David on climate change, and that is crucial to me.

If the leadership contest is now between David and Ed Miliband, like Johann Hari, I hope Ed wins, but it is David who has all the big financial backers and campaign money, more than the other four candidates put together. No democracy there…

My first choice for Labour on Left policy, her anti-war record, her personality and and her long political experience (member of Parliament since 1987) would have been Diane Abbott, but she hardly has any support from the Trades Unions, so she hasn’t got a chance. As a 57 year old Black woman with no serious money behind her and a campaign team of 2 volunteers (compare David Miliband’s campaign team of 90 fulltime paid staff), she was always going to be real outsider. Andy Burnham and Ed Balls are also running for the Labour leadership.

Johann Hari: And The Next Leader Of The Labour Party Should Be…

At Its Core the Disagreement Between the Brothers Is an Argument About Whether Blairism Is the Best a Labour Government Can Ever Aim For.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Labour Party is infuriated that the climax of its leadership race has been overshadowed by Tony Blair’s brief break from taking millions off the economy-crashing bank JPMorgan Chase, fawning over his “good friend” and murderous tyrant Colonel Gaddafi, and agitating for the bombing of Iran. But they’re wrong. At its core, the disagreement between David and Ed Miliband is an argument about whether Blairism is the best a Labour government can ever aim for. The entry of the gurning ghost of Tony Blair is a clarifying third act.

Now that it’s effectively a race between the Milibands, it’s easy to ask: how different can two nasal policy wonks who emerged from the same womb really be? Yet this campaign has shown that they want to lead very different Britains.

David Miliband is being funded by exactly the same interests as Blair. To pluck just one, David Claydon, a senior figure at the investment bank UBS, has handed him £50,000, as part of a gaggle of bankers who made it possible for him to outspend every other candidate combined. He is backed by all the senior Blairites because, like Dr Who regenerating in a bright white light, he is the same politics with a less lined face. At the hustings, it has become clear that with David you will get all that was good about New Labour – much higher spending on public services than under the Tories, for example – and all that is bad.

Whenever other candidates pointed out, in the spirit of trying to figure out how to do better next time, that at the end of the New Labour years, inequality was higher than under Thatcher, our emissions of warming gases were up, and there are now 20,000 unidentified corpses in Baghdad morgue alone, he snapped that it’s wrong to “dump on the record”.

It’s not enough to say the debate should be solely “future oriented.” The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future. And David Miliband’s record in government suggests he will always ask: what would Tony do?

As foreign secretary, he aggressively and unrepentantly defended the Bush administration’s actions. He told the BBC’s Hardtalk: “Divide and rule is rightly a maxim one applies.” Perhaps most shockingly, he made extensive and expensive efforts to cover up the British security services’ earlier complicity in the torture of British people abroad.

He went to court to prevent us from being told how judges had laid out in detail how British resident Binyam Mohamed was rendered by the CIA to Morocco where he was subject to medieval torture, including the taking of a scalpel to his genitals, with MI5 feeding questions to the torturers. He says he “abhors” torture – but why then cover up MI5’s role in it? Do Labour members want to see their leader forced to testify on all this before the new torture inquiry?

Ed Miliband is different. At every hustings he said – to tics and tuts from his brother – he’s glad he was against the invasion of Iraq from the start, and when US foreign policy is in future heading in the wrong direction, “Britain should get off the train”. His record in government suggests that this is true.

While his brother was defending the Bush administration’s atrocities, Ed was traveling the world as climate secretary, pleading governments to go much further and faster than the US allowed. At Copenhagen, I saw how he was one of the few politicians who grasped the scale of the climate crisis and sincerely tried to get a deal.

They also differ closer to home. Blair said this week that Labour lost because “it stopped being New Labour” – the argument that David Miliband’s team are echoing. He named two policies that he says lost the party support. The first is the decision to increase taxes on the richest 1 per cent from 40 per cent to 50 per cent. Yet in reality, according to YouGov, some 62 per cent of Brits want to go further and introduce the higher rate at £100k. Only 25 per cent are against.

The second deadly policy, he says, is that Gordon Brown started “identifying banks as the malfeasants” after the crash. Yes: Tony Blair thinks people didn’t vote Labour because the party was too critical of bankers. In truth, again, 76 per cent say Brown was too soft on the banks. Remember: these are Blair’s own examples, not mine.

This is a perfect illustration of the argument that Ed Miliband has been making throughout the leadership debate. He has claimed that New Labour’s initial instincts from 1994 have hardened into “ideological dogmas” that would leave the party “beached by history” in this decade. The more New Labour hardened into a rightwing caucus, the more it shed votes: by 2005, on Blair’s watch, it was down to 35 per cent, and only “won” because of an undemocratic electoral system that may not be there next time.

So what’s Ed Miliband’s alternative? Peter Mandelson and others have offered up a silly straw man, claiming he believes Labour should “abandon the middle classes”. In fact, he has a more subtle point. If you want to appeal to the middle class in Britain, you have to know what it is – and people like Mandelson seem to have forgotten in a blur of yachts and guacamole dips. The median wage in this country is £20,831. Only 10 per cent earn more than £40,000. So Ed Miliband wants policies that help the real middle – not the top 1 per cent that Blair, Cameron and company bizarrely class as “ordinary voters.”

This, the real middle class in Britain, has been stressed for a long time as their share of national income has been steadily transferred to the rich. Over the past 30 years, the proportion of GDP paid in wages has fallen from 67 per cent to 54 per cent, while the proportion going to the rich as income from dividends has skyrocketed. They work the longest hours in Europe, but their wages are, relatively, shrinking. There’s a real redistributive will out there, waiting to be tapped.

Labour has lost 5 million voters since 1997. One million went to the Tories. Four million went to the Lib Dems and smaller parties, or to disgusted abstension. Three million were manual or unskilled workers. So it is basic electoral arithmetic that there are four times more votes to be won back there in winning back liberals and low-income workers than in becoming a Cameron clone. As Ed Miliband put it: “We can neither win an election with the working-class vote [alone], nor can we take it for granted.”

Of course, the Blairites say this can’t win. Yet the polls show it was their totems – Iraq, the deregulation of high finance that made the crunch inevitable and the bank bailouts necessary, and on – that were the last government’s most unpopular policies.

By contrast Ed Miliband’s agenda – to appeal to Britain’s true middle and the lost low-income workers by arguing that they should have a greater share of the wealth they generate, while not killing a million people abroad – polls well. To suggest this is “Bennite”, or a return to 1983, is bizarre: it’s mild European social democracy, of the kind that is pulling Germany out of recession faster than the US.

So yes, we should thank the Ghost of Tony Past. He has reminded us that if you want more of the same, vote for the candidate he calls “my Wayne Rooney.” But if you think this country could do better, brother, there’s an alternative.

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2 thoughts on ““Oh Brother Ed, Where Art Thou?,” by Abzier Coppe”

  1. Anyone interested should review Robert Dreyfuss’
    piece on how the American Left and Labor views
    China relations. Naturally Nader is on target as is the AEA and the Andy Sterns are-well-Andy Sterns.

    http://www.thenation.com/article/154484/china-drivers-seat

    But if US labor wants to go wobbly on globalization, there is always Eurasianism to promote. That will keep a vestige of White Culture alive as more than a political curio, if successful.

    As for Dreyfuss, he seemed a little too mild himself
    on the issues which he discusses, but input from others is welcomed.

  2. From the Morning Star:

    New Labour is Old Hat

    Tuesday 07 September 2010 Rob Griffiths

    “Politics is the art of the possible,” we are assured by those “hard-headed” pragmatists who, unlike us woolly-headed idealists, live in the “real world.”

    This aphorism could stand as the epitaph for new Labour.

    Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and their acolytes have shown how it is possible to squander the biggest parliamentary majority in British history, drive millions of Labour voters away from the Labour Party and lose more than half of the party’s membership in the process.

    They have shown how it’s possible to drag social democracy through the mud and the blood.

    Whatever the shortcomings and failures of previous Labour governments – and they were many – it is impossible to imagine Clement Attlee privatising health and education services or Harold Wilson launching an unprovoked war with a pack of lies at the cost of half a million civilian lives.

    James Callaghan was no great liberal, but it is difficult to see him wanting to bang up British citizens for three months without charge, or asylum-seekers for even longer.

    Yet none of the four new Labourites contesting the Labour leadership disowns the disastrous, treacherous legacy of new Labour.

    Instead, they either hide behind the democratic and social democratic achievements of its first term or they talk blandly about “moving on” because new Labour has outlived its usefulness.

    They should not be allowed to rewrite history so lightly. Most of Labour’s first-term achievements between 1997 and 2001 were the legacy of commitments demanded by the unions and conceded by John Smith, the last social democratic leader of the Labour Party.

    This is true of the statutory minimum wage, trade union rights, devolution for Scotland and Wales and a Freedom of Information Act.

    Even so, Blair and his new Labour cabal did everything within their power to limit the effectiveness of these policies. Other pre-1997 pledges, for example to maintain full employment and renationalise the railways, were dumped.

    New Labour’s main usefulness was to big business, especially the City of London and British transnational corporations.

    Between 1997 and 2008, for instance, whereas total wages increased by just over three-quarters in money terms, the total domestic profits of financial corporations trebled.

    The overseas profits of British-based transnationals rose by 179 per cent. In fact, towards the end of new Labour’s reign, Britain’s monopoly capitalists reaped more in profits from their overseas operations than from their domestic ones.

    One of Blair and Brown’s first measures in office was to increase the independent powers of the Bank of England, even though the general election manifesto had promised to make monetary policy-making more accountable.

    The result was a strategy of high interest rates to prop up sterling and the City which helped destroy 1.4 million manufacturing jobs in 10 years.

    It is significant that neither David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls or Andy Burnham intend to reverse the new Labour counter-revolution inside the Labour Party.

    They do not support public ownership of the railways – or of much else for that matter – or the restoration of Treasury responsibility for setting interest rates.

    They do not intend to replace Labour’s risible legislative commitment to cutting the public-sector deficit with a serious one to restore full employment as a central objective of government policy.

    Indeed, as unemployment heads towards three million, with one-quarter of young people neither in work nor college, they propose nothing which challenges the prerogatives of monopoly capital to ramp up prices, close viable enterprises or cut wages while doubling dividends and bonuses.

    They propose no measures of public ownership, no end to the private finance initiative, no controls on the movement of capital, no repeal of the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe.

    Their foreign policy also remains the same, peering out of the rear orifice of the United States, maintaining US military bases in Britain, committing £76 billion to a new generation of nuclear weapons under US control, striving to make the European Union safe for British and US monopoly profits.

    The best on offer from the new Labourite epigones is Ed Miliband’s pledge to introduce “a capitalism that works for people.”

    It’s difficult to know whether to laugh at such political naivety or weep at the poverty of its ambition.

    Monopoly capitalism has not only survived its biggest and most expensive crisis in three generations. It has done so with the power and arrogance to punish those whose public money bailed out the entire financial system – namely the people, the workers including public employees, the users of public services.

    It requires supreme faith in politics as the art of the possible to believe that such a system can be made to work for the very people it exploits, extorts and then punishes in return for saving its life.

    Like the House of Bourbon, which thought that restoration after the French revolution would allow it to be as reactionary as ever, new Labour has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

    Under any of the feeble four, it will be “big business as usual” – unless the trade unions fight to reclaim the Labour Party for the labour movement.

    The signs are not encouraging, although the next few months could be decisive.

    First, the trade unions, especially the main ones in the public sector, need to call joint meetings in all the regions and nations of Britain to organise broad-based local campaigns to defend public services and jobs.

    A new, huge round of cuts in public spending will be unveiled in the Con-Dem government’s spending review on October 20.

    Unions and the forthcoming TUC conference must commit themselves to real action, ending the embarrassing contrast between the militancy elsewhere in Europe and torpor here in Britain.

    Last year’s TUC decision to support the People’s Charter, which provides the progressive alternative to Con-Dem policies of slash and burn, needs to be turned into solid campaigning.

    Whoever wins the Labour Party leadership election, affiliated unions should make clear that there will be no more blank cheques to fund anti-working-class, pro-war policies. To abjure this weapon, as some union leaders do at present, signifies a lack of determination to reclaim the Labour Party for the labour movement.

    Without substantial changes in policy, no Labour leadership will carry any credibility when attacking all those Con-Dem measures which are based upon and extend new Labour’s programme.

    The next Labour Party leader should be told to read some of the classic works of Ralph Miliband, beginning with, say, Parliamentary Socialism and progressing to The State In Capitalist Society before moving into 10 Downing Street.

    Anyone who blathers about building “a capitalism for the people” might be better deployed in the Tory or Lib Dem parties trying to civilise his colleagues, not misleading Labour into another cycle of hypocritical oppositionism, empty promises, hope-filled victory, abject surrender to big business, disillusionment and defeat.

    But there are two other lessons to be learned from history here and from other countries in Europe.

    First, the left in the trade union movement has to begin putting the case for a fundamentally different kind of society – socialism – in place of corrupt, crisis-ridden, anti-people, anti-planet capitalism.

    And second, a bigger, more influential Communist Party is vital to counteract rightwards drift in the labour movement and the Labour Party, to help organise the fight for realistic militancy in the labour movement and to project the prospect of socialism.

    Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party

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